If we look into Iron Age history in Scandinavia we might find a forceful explanation of why it took so long to Christianise parts of the population in the Nordic areas. Who are the Vikings and what is their origin? With all the caricatures and stereotypes out there, there’s probably a lot you’ve never heard about the seafaring Scandinavians who raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond.

This 6th century Buddha statuette from North India was found in an old Viking trading town on Helgö Island in Lake Mälaren, Sweden. During the excavation of the Oseberg ship one so-called “Buddha bucket” was found. The findings illustrate that the Vikings traded over vast distances and had to deal with many different cultures and religions. Or maybe there is another explanation? Some research suggests it may reflects the remains of Buddhism in Scandinavia.

The Helgö Island Buddha (Photo: Swedish History Museum, Stockholm)

Worshipping of the God Thor in Scandinavia

Thor was described as the God of the Goths or Geats (ref. “Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus” by Olaus Magnus, 1555). The Goths mixed with the people of origin here, that is known from the Norse Mythologies. The mix of European and Asian people likely resulted in and is reflected in the Vikings culture of Scandinavia. It seems like the Saami people are mix of the old peoples of Scandinavia, Europeans and Asians as well as with newer people migrating to these areas.

The Buddhist Connection To Viking CultureThis is an illustration of a pre-Christian Deity (Picart 1725). A God carved in stone photo by Worm-Petersen (1914), this was likely Thor. (Image Source)

The Goths were far back in history more likely of South Asian origin, however they might have been a 50:50 mix of southern and eastern Asian if they for instance had Khotan / Kushan origins. If the Goths mixed with the Scandinavian indigenous people and these later became the Vikings, then the Goths must have been the ones that came with Buddha and Buddhist ornaments. Was Thor part of Buddhism or did he belong to the first people of Scandinavia?

The Buddhist Connection To Viking CultureLeft: Thor’s hammer / Right: Indra’s Vajra

Explored the World

In the period 8th to 11th century the Vikings traveled throughout the known and unknown world where they trough trade and warfare met new cultures and religions: From Greenland and Vinland (North America) in the west, Miklagard (Constantinople) and India in the East, to Blåland (English: “Blue Land”, meaning Africa) in the south.

With the battle axe in one hand, they had to deal with people who had a different culture, language, and color and that believed in other gods than themselves: Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and tribes that followed natural religions.

The Buddhist Connection To Viking CultureThe Oseberg ship “Buddha bucket”. (Photo: Saamiblog/ Wikimedia Commons)

Mystery of Vikings origin

It is well documented that the Vikings ran extensive slave trade and it is very likely that some of these “exotic commodities” were brought back home and sold in Scandinavia. The youngest of the women found in the Oseberg ship is, according To Per Holck of Oslo University, mitochondrial haplogroup U7: Her ancestors came from the Black Sea area, possibly Iran.

Did the Vikings get knowledge from the slaves about other cultures and languages ​​that were helpful to them? Did they bring slaves as interpreters on their travels? And – how did these slaves affect the Vikings’ view of religion?

The Buddhist Connection To Viking CultureConnection between the Norwegian stavkirke and the Thai temple? (Image Source)

A paradox is that Norway and Sweden were the last countries in Europe to introduce Christianity as the official religion. Could one reason be that the Vikings had seen and learned about other cultures and religions that they considered unfamiliar, including Christianity, and thus stayed loyal to the Norse religion that had provided security, structure and success?

However, Christianisatity triumphed early as a religion at least for the power elites in some Nordic areas, however the Christian religion does not seem to have affected the kings and queens buried in Oseberg or Gokstad in Norway during the 800eds CE. Clearly a religion with Buddhist symbolismhave been present in Sweden and Norway at least from 400 CE or earlier and until about 900 – 1000 CE . We know that Asians were present in the Nordic as early somewhere between c. 300 – 50 BCE, referring to the finding of a bog man called Grauballeman / Grauballemanden in Denmark, it indicates they likely have come here well before 400 CE.

The Buddhist Connection To Viking CultureTollund Man or bog man is a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC, during the period characterised in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age

Most Scandinavian Viking graves are not yet excavated and are preserved for posterity. Hopefully, many of the answers lie hidden along with the remains of the most adventurous people in history.

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